Newtown, Connecticut

It had been 51 years since I had passed through Newtown, Connecticut. Today I did not pass through, but went to the memorial for the 20 children and school staff members who were slaughtered on December 14, 2012. This coming Wednesday, it will be 10 years since that shooting.

The sky was blue with a few jet trails as I came out of teaching the last class of the semester in 2012. Once on the highway headed to the Berkshires of Massachusetts, on I-90, I turned on an NPR station as I usually did to unwind from the day’s teaching schedule at the community college in Troy, New York. A news bulletin reported that there had been a school shooting in Connecticut, but few details were available. When I got home, my wife Jan had the television on and CNN reported that a massacre had taken place in Newtown, involving an undetermined number of children and school staff.

Newtown, Connecticut, flashed through the corridors of my memory as I watched the coverage. Forty-one years earlier, in happier days, I travelled from Rhode Island, north on Route 34 outside of New Haven, Connecticut, and followed the road beside the banks of the Housatonic River to Newtown, where the road merged with I-84 toward the Catskill Mountains of New York. These were heady days of resistance to the Vietnam War and lots of allies and much protest and activism. The world seemed like you could jump on it and it would jump back to paraphrase the activist Abbie Hoffman.

I travelled down from the Berkshires on December 10th through the most direct route to Newtown on my GPS. The day was chilly, starting out in the teens and warming to the low 30s as I made my way into the parking lot of the memorial that marks the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Earlier somewhere north of Thomaston, Connecticut coming out of the Litchfield Hills, I noticed a ring of clouds hugging the horizon to the south that was in stark contrast to the cold and clear blue sky that seemed endless.

I walked down from the parking lot to the Sandy Hook Memorial on a winding pathway of black gravel bordered by light-colored stones of various sizes. The memorial wall is made of granite with capstones holding the names of the first-grade victims of Adam Lanza, the shooter, and the school staff who died trying to stop the carnage and protect the children in their care.

Here, at the lip of the memorial made of gray cobblestones much like the gray granite of the memorial, a person cannot help but weep, as grief is the predominant emotion. How can this be? How can these 6- and 7-year-old children and the professional staff that cared for them and gave their lives for them have their names beneath the sun at its lowest point in the southeast as the winter solstice approaches only a few, short days away? In the middle of the memorial, there is raised granite and earth with a sycamore tree, from which a fountain suddenly moves the water in a counterclockwise direction. Woods and a few distant low buildings and fields surround the memorial site. The memorial to the children and their school staff make this feel like a sacred place.Tears fall easily here and I speak with the only other person at the memorial who says that there is sadness here and gun violence continues. Soon more people arrive as noon approaches and I sit on a bench at the edge of the memorial, only feet from the names of those lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The sun warms, and even this slight increase in warmth is welcomed.

Adam Lanza was a profoundly troubled young man with access to the small arsenal that his mother, Nancy, legally owned. Years earlier he had been assessed by experts at Yale University (“Adam Lanza’s Mental Problems ‘Completely Untreated’ Before Newtown Shootings, Report Says,” New York Times, November 21, 2014), who outlined a program of treatment, including professional and school interventions that may have saved the lives etched into this memorial and his own life and that of his mother’s. His life met at the intersection of extreme suffering and the availability of guns. Rather than follow the plan of treatment outlined at Yale, Nancy Lanza sequestered Adam while he fell into the abyss of mental illness that was worsened by his isolation, hours of online access to violent videos and others who charted violent mass murder, and the effects of anorexia. At one point, his only live contact was his mother and they would communicate through email. Adam’s windows were covered in the dark plastic used to line garbage cans.

For interaction with the outside world, Nancy Lanza took her son Adam to gun ranges where he could hone his use of weapons that his mother owned. At some point in Adam’s development, his mother decided to further sequester him from the outside world and disregard the recommendations from Yale. She would pay on the morning of December 14, 2012, with her life from her choice of how to deal with the rapidly deteriorating condition of her son. Adam Lanza would turn his hurt outward against innocent children and school staff with his mother’s lethal weapons on December 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The far-right conspiracy “theorist,” Alex Jones, will pay in dollars for the torment he has visited on survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (“What to Know About the Alex Jones Defamation Case,” New York Times, August 5, 2022), “Alex Jones owes $1.5 bn and declared bankruptcy. So how is Infowars still running?” Guardian, December 8, 2022). Jones is one among many who held that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was “fake news.”

The political right is bolstered by the pro-gun US Supreme Court majority, while states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Yrok have better gun laws. Still, the US gun lobby supports the “cold, dead hands” rhetoric of many. By 2017, individual gun ownership in the US amounted to 393 weapons, a number estimated at over 400 million now. Much money is made by the domestic gun industry. Assault rifles of the type Adam Lanza used in his rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School are regulated in some states. In many gun assaults, hypermasculinity and a Wild West gun ethos meet at dangerous crossroads. In other gun assaults, hate is fueled by lethal weapons.

Here are the names of the innocents who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School:

Rachel D’Avino, 29, behavior therapist
Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal
Anne Marie Murphy, 52, special education teacher
Lauren Rousseau, 30, teacher
Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist
Victoria Leigh Soto, 27, teacher


Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
Ana Márquez-Greene, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6

The sun on the water of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Memorial and the water’s movement cannot hide the horror of gun violence and its causes. The sanctity of the memorial is far beyond the crudeness of dollars and Second Amendment ravings.

Three years after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, one of my students from the community college where I taught would die in Queens, New York, shot in front of his house, along with his best friend, both young men murdered by gunfire.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).